Iowa DNR Proposes Budget Increase for Lake Restoration and Water Trails


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Nicole Welle | September 14, 2020

The Iowa Natural Resource Commission endorsed a budget for the DNR with increases for lake water quality projects, water trails and park infrastructure.

The Department of Management ordered the Iowa DNR to use the current budget as a baseline for the 2021-2022 proposal. DNR complied by doubling the budget in those three areas while keeping spending the same elsewhere. Most of the money in the budget comes from fees and grants rather than the state’s general fund, according to a DesMoines Register article.

All of the budget increases will come from the state’s gambling tax receipts if it is approved by the legislature. If the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission approves the current proposal, it will become a baseline for Gov. Kim Reynolds’ next proposal for the department.

Some raised questions about how an increase in the budget would affect possible cuts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. DNR Director Kayla Lyon said that she has not heard of any across-the-board cuts at this time, but it is possible that departments will have to consider reductions in spending later on.

The new budget will be submitted to the Department of Management by Oct. 1.

Wildfires Burn Through West Coast


Screenshot from USDA that shows perimeters of wildfires.

Maxwell Bernstein | September 11, 2020

The August Complex, a chain of wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and California has killed 7 people and destroyed 471,000 acres of property making this the largest wildfire in California’s history, according to The New York Times

The fires which started last month have burned through neighborhoods and forced evacuations. Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon said this “could be the greatest loss of human life and property” due to wildfires, according to the BBC.

The warming climate is creating drier conditions and higher temperatures, which increase the severity and frequency of wildfires in the west coast, according to The New York Times

For more information on the current wildfires, check out this fire information website from the United States Department of Agriculture

Trump Administration’s Plan to Deny Pending Biofuel Waivers Could Appeal to Iowa Farmers


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Nicole Welle | September 10, 2020

President Trump directed the EPA to deny dozens of retroactive biofuel waivers from oil refiners over concerns that the waivers could reduce his support in the corn belt.

Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), oil refiners are required to either blend biofuels into their products or buy credits from the refiners that do. However, refiners also have the option to submit requests for waivers that exempt them from those requirements if they can prove that adhering to the requirements will cause them great financial harm, according to a Reuters report.

In recent years, the Trump administration has increased the number of waivers given out to refiners, a move that did not sit well with farm states since it could hurt demand for corn-based ethanol. An appeals court in January said that many of the waivers should not have been issued and decided that waivers granted after 2010 must only be approved as extensions to existing waivers. This led to an increase in waiver applications from refiners attempting to comply with the court ruling.

President Trump’s request to deny the pending retroactive waivers is likely to draw him some support in Iowa and other Midwest swing states where his support has waned somewhat since the 2016 elections. The EPA could reject dozens of waiver requests as soon as this week, and shares have already increased for Pacific Ethanol Inc., Green Plains Inc. and Renewable Energy Group Inc, according to a Bloomberg article.

President Trump Extends a Ban on Offshore Drilling


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Maxwell Bernstein | September 9, 2020

With 55 days until the election, President Donald Trump signed an order to expand a ban on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida with hopes of winning support for the 2020 election, according to Reuters.

The ban was originally set to expire in 2022 but has now been expanded to 2027 with backing by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. This ban has heavy support from tourism, real estate, and environmental interests. 

Presidential candidate Joe Biden has said in his climate plan, that he will ban oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, and plans to uphold and create legislation that lowers pollution along with curbing the effects of climate change.

Microplastics In Farm Soils Have Adverse Effects On Wheat Crops


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Thomas Robinson | September 8th, 2020

Microplastics in soils have recently been linked to increased cadmium uptake and root damage in wheat plants.

Researchers at Kansas State University have demonstrated that crops grown in the presence of microplastics are more likely to be contaminated with cadmium than crops grown in the absence of microplastics.  Cadmium is a heavy metal that is known to be carcinogenic and is commonly found in the environment from industrial and agricultural sources.  The researchers also found that microplastics were able to damage the roots of the wheat plants by clogging soil pores and preventing water uptake.

Microplastics are fragments of plastic products that are 5 millimeters or less in length, which is about the size of a sesame seed.  The influence these particulate plastics have on the environment and human health is still not well understood, and they are a growing environmental concern.  While most of the attention microplastics have received is in relation to the amount found in the oceans, a study published in 2016 demonstrates that microplastics actually accumulate more on land surfaces. 

Unsurprisingly, there have been microplastics found in Storm Lake, Iowa.  These pollutants can be found almost everywhere in the world which suggests we need a better understanding of microplastics and their effect on the environment. We also need to make changes to our behavior to prevent further pollution on top of what plastics have already been deposited across the globe.

EPA Rolls Back Effluent Limits for Coal Power Plants


Graphic of a coal power plant
Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | September 7, 2020

EPA recently announced it was finalizing the “Steam Electric Consideration Rule,” a rule that will roll back requirements limiting toxic discharge from coal power plants

EPA adopted standards to limit this discharge in 2015, but they extended the compliance date to the completion of this new rule. Now, the new rule is set to adopt weaker standards, provide a further extension for compliance and exempt facilities that will switch fuel sources or are scheduled to retire within a set time period, according to an article published by the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC).

The rule outlines new “effluent limit guidelines” under the Clean Water Act for nitrogen and toxic metals like mercury, arsenic and selenium. These guidelines set water quality standards for industrial discharges based on “the best technology that is economically achievable” for power plants. Instead of setting a strict technology-based standard, this allows facilities to determine what treatment to install that will meet discharge limitations.

“Regulations are meant to be protective of the environment, not the industries that cause pollution,” said IEC Water Program Director Ingrid Gronstal Anderson in an IEC article. “Over the last several years, EPA has been rolling back environmental standards in favor of economic interests. This abdication of regulatory responsibility is a clear danger to public health and the environment.”

EPA claims the new rule will do a better job of reducing pollution than the 2015 rule. However, they base their calculations off of the assumption that facilities will instal better technology and achieve more reductions than the rule actually requires.

EPA Administrator Hints to Trump’s Second Term Approach to Environmental Issues


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Maxwell Bernstein | September 4, 2020

If re-elected, President Trump will weaken environmental regulations that have delayed Superfund Cleanup projects, Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator said to The Wall Street Journal

This announcement from Wheeler comes after the EPA was permitted by the Trump administration to issue 3,000 waivers for oil, gas, and farm operations to bypass environmental rules. The Trump administration also faced a lawsuit from nine environmental activist groups who sued over changes made to the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act.  

Trump’s approach to deregulations and changes to current environmental policies have a stark contrast to presidential candidate Joe Biden who unveiled a multifaceted, $2 trillion plan to fight climate change. With 60 days until the 2020 election, Americans will have to choose between different approaches to handling a rapidly evolving climate crisis.

New Study Highlights Environmental and Financial Benefits of Diversifying Crop Rotations


Graphic of an Iowa corn field
Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | September 3, 2020

A new study from researchers at Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota found that diversifying crop rotations keep farms profitable while greatly reducing the negative environmental and health impacts of farming.

Farmers have practiced corn and soybean crop rotation for a long time. However, this new research found that adding more crops, like oat and alfalfa, to the rotation can improve soil quality and the productivity of farmland. It also benefits the environment and human health by reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.

The study used data from a long-term field experiment at Iowa State University’s Marsden Farm. This experiment began in 2001 and compared performance characteristics of a two-year corn-soy rotation with a three-year corn-soy-oat rotation and a four-year corn-soy-oat-alfalfa rotation. They used this information to better understand the amount of pollution and fossil fuel use associated with each cropping system, according to a Phys.org article.

By looking at pollution from both farming and the supply chain, researchers found that the production of synthetic fertilizer requires a lot of fossil fuel. Its application also produces poor air quality by emitting greenhouse gases and pollution. Less fertilizer is required when small grains and forages are added into rotations, and the addition of just one small grain crop can reduce fossil fuel use and pollution by half, according to the study.

While it may take time for farmers to further diversify their crop rotations, this information could provide long-term success for farmers, the public and the environment.

United Nations Summit on Emerging Diseases and Deforestation Will Occur Next Month


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Maxwell Bernstein | September 2, 2020

A UN summit on biodiversity is scheduled for next month in New York City, where conservationists and biologists will discuss a strong link between deforestation and the emergence of novel diseases such as Covid-19, according to The Guardian

Land-use change, the process where humans transform natural land, is linked to 31% of emerging infectious diseases including HIV, Ebola, and Zika virus, according to Iowa Environmental Focus.

Proportions of animals that host pathogens that are detrimental to human health is anywhere from 21-144% higher in human-disturbed areas than non-disturbed habitats, according to Iowa Environmental Focus

“It is estimated that tens of millions of hectares of rainforest and other wild environments are being bulldozed every year to cultivate palm trees, farm cattle, extract oil and provide access to mines and mineral deposits,” The Guardian said. 

Des Moines Water Works Calls For Water Conservation In Face of Drought


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Thomas Robinson | September 1st, 2020

Des Moines Water Works is struggling with low water levels and poor water quality leading to calls for water conservation.

Des Moines Water Works, is asking city residents to change their lawn watering schedules to help alleviate high water demand and an abnormally low supply.  The utility is asking that customers who live at even-numbered addresses water their lawns on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while odd numbered addresses water on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Residents are also asked to water before 10 am or after 5 pm to avoid water evaporation from their lawns. 

Iowa is facing serious drought conditions across most of the state which has resulted in low river levels in many of Iowa’s waterways.  Des Moines Water Works uses two rivers, the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers, as the primary source for the city’s water.  Low river levels on the Raccoon river are making it difficult to pump water into the city’s treatment plant. To address the issue, flashboards were installed near the Des Moines Water Works’ treatment plant to raise the river level.

Under normal conditions, the water utility would be able to draw from the Des Moines River as well to meet water demands. Unfortunately, the Des Moines River is currently suffering from a toxic algal bloom that has limited the amount of water drawn from that river.  Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) can contaminate waters with toxins, like microcystins, which can cause vomiting, stomach pain, and even pneumonia.